The Advisory Career

Glory Days

Athletic performance under pressure, a winning attitude and keeping an eye on the goal are traits that carry well into your career

by Gregory J. McLaughlin, MS, CFP®

Mr.. McLaughlin, MS, CFP® is a financial planner with Centinel Financial Group, LLC in Needham Heights, Massachusetts. He can be reached at 781.446.5016 or by email at Registered Representative/Securities and Investment Advisory Services offered through Signator Investors, Inc., Member FINRA, SIPC, a Registered Investment Advisor. 160 Gould Street, Needham Heights, MA 02494. 781.446.5000. Centinel Financial Group, LLC is not affiliated with Signator Investors, Inc.

Does having the opportunity to reflect on a game winning shot, goal, home-run or touchdown make you more likely to succeed in your financial life?

While many of us might be visualizing the person who is still living in the past, often times this person has developed some incredible skills and habits resulting in greater financial success.

In fact, research shows that former athletes earn 5 – 15 % more than non-athletes.1 Some of their most prevalent skills include time management, a strong work ethic and emotional intelligence.

Additionally, with a focus on constant improvement many former athletes have ingrained in themselves the habits of committing to a goal and high end decision making skills. So, how do these timeless life lessons and skills lead to better jobs, more opportunities, and a more fulfilling financial life?

A habit of high performance

If you think back to an interview you’ve taken part in, you were probably asked a question around how you balance multiple projects at once and how you are able to prioritize. For many former athletes this question is usually a homerun – no pun intended.

When playing a high school sport, you learn at a young age how to balance practice, school, time with your friends and possibly a part time job. This experience helps many athletes develop the skills of prioritizing important goals and improving the efficiency of time they spend on each task or activity.

Research shows many athletes actually perform better academically while in season due to the fact that they do not have time to waste. Each hour is accounted for and in order to have a balanced live that they enjoy they need to be able to accomplish tasks at a high level in a short period of time.2 This developed skill can be extremely valuable in one’s work life due to the fact that most of us are being pulled in many directions and it is imperative that one can process, prioritize, tackle and achieve each task or responsibility at a high level.

In addition to time management skills, work ethic is an additional driver that can lead to opportunities and success in one’s work life.

One can argue whether or not work ethic is observed, taught or just something you are born with. What most people can agree on is that this skill is extremely valuable once a person lands their first job.

It is observed by coworkers, bosses and friends and often times it consistently lines up with accomplishments one has achieved during his or her lifetime. By committing to a sport at a young age, an athlete is able to understand that focusing on a specific skill and developing it with constant practice and determination will yield a great result.

Baby Steps

I have personally witnessed it in my 5-year-old daughter who has been practicing gymnastics for a year and half. Last summer she was determined to complete a cartwheel and after a month or two of practicing every day all of a sudden she had a really good cartwheel. This summer she is focusing on a handstand and a few other tricks will be coming down the pipeline.

By starting with small accomplishments, she will learn that work ethic is like a muscle being built and the more you focus on it throughout your life the greater your accomplishments will be. When you think about a high school coach building a team or the CEO of a company building an organization, many would prefer the less talented player or employee with the better work ethic. We know that person will work tirelessly to make sure their work is high quality, spend the extra time on a presentation and practice continuously to make sure they are always growing and developing just like they did when playing sports.

While we value and respect time management skills and strong work ethic, it is also important to understand the value of intangibles that can lead to strong teamwork, increased morale and an overall positive environment.

One of the most prevalent intangible skills that many employers are referencing today is emotional intelligence. Author and businesswoman Penelope Trunk advanced the idea that many employers are favoring emotional intelligence over academic intelligence. She defines this as having “soft skills” that enable good interpersonal relationships at work which include reading people, connecting with people and being able to work independently while being part of a team.3

For athletes, these “soft skills” are attained through experiences with a variety of coaches and teammates that run the gamut of personality types and communication styles. The ability to understand and acknowledge a variety of perspectives and personalities while finding a way to rally around a specific goal is an imperative skill for a successful sports team. Learning to navigate this challenge at a young age can lead to valuable skills in the work force.

Bill Belichick says “Do your job.” Those three simple words are often the difference between ultimate success and failure.

In the same way that teammates are able to successfully find a way to work together to achieve a common goal, successful colleagues are able to work with different personalities and communication styles to advance a unified idea or strategy that will benefit the entire team or organization.

This skill set also leads to people becoming comfortable in their own skin with a focus on what the great Bill Belichick often references as, “Do your job.” Those three simple words are often the difference between ultimate success and failure. When each employee focuses on their tasks at hand while also providing support to coworkers, this leads to many organizations going from good to great.4

In addition to proving valuable in one’s work life, the skills developed through sports can also result in positive financial habits and skills that can increase one’s financial health throughout their life. The first and probably most important is the ability to identify and commit to a goal.

Dedication to a goal

The great Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going you might not get there.” This quote emphasizes the importance of having a specific goal and a detailed plan of action to achieve that goal. High school athletes focus on goals surrounding strength, speed and other specific skill sets in their sport. The true value is apparent when the athlete is able to commit to a goal and work tirelessly and understand that although it may not pay off right away, the dedication will greatly increase their likelihood of achieving the goal weeks, months or years down the road.

The ability to have the blind faith to commit to a plan and believe that if one does each step they will achieve something great is a truly rewarding experience for the athlete, coach and parent.

This dedication to a goal immediately translates into the ability to achieve financial goals as an adult. It starts with the habit of saving money at a young age in order to achieve specific goals down the road. Often times it begins with saving for something small, then possibly saving for a car, an engagement ring, a house or enough to start a business.

By starting with a goal, factoring in a reasonable timeline, and then putting together a plan, the likelihood of achieving the goal will increase dramatically. Then, once a small goal is achieved, such as saving $100 each month, and achieving this goal becomes a habit, it becomes easy to build on the goal and increase your savings over time.

Balanced Emotions

Equally important is the ability to make smart financial decisions while balancing emotions. Making good decisions often come down to the ability to process information, specifically in a stressful or emotional situation.

Thus many employers are finding that former athletes who are accustomed to playing in stressful games seem to perform better when making important decisions.5 The great John Wooden, who led the UCLA men’s basketball team to 10 national championships, designed his practices to be more demanding, stressful and challenging than the games themselves.

By training his players to become accustomed to these conditions, they were able to perform better in games since they built up their natural instincts and were able to execute the fundamentals without conscious thought. His players were able to make the right decisions and execute the right pass, shot or decision automatically without letting emotion or thought complicate the decision.

These same skills help with financial decisions when people are able to stay focused on the goal and not let short term emotions affect their long term plans. We particularly see the benefits of this during volatile times in the market. Clients who are clear on timelines and the importance of sticking with their long term plan are more apt to ride out cycles which results in an increased probability of achieving long term goals and objectives.

The Japanese had a saying that catapulted them into dominating the auto world in the 1980’s. This term, “kaizen,” stands for constant unending improvement. As we reflect on what has been discussed in this article, I think this philosophy captures the essence of the overall theme.

At a young age, athletes are taught skills such as time management, work ethic and emotional intelligence, which they are then able to translate into their work lives and opportunities down the road. Through the same sports experiences, they are taught the importance of committing to a goal and decision making skills that can then be used to strengthen financial habits as they grow into adults.

Overall, the combination of these skills puts many former athletes on a great path towards achieving financial success in many areas of their life. ◊



1. Pinsker, Joe, Why do former high school athletes make more money?,
2. Bliss, Kevin, Does playing sports help improve grades?,
3. Trunk, Penelope, The workplace favors athletes, so do your best to be one,
4. Radziszewski, Nicole, Game of life: lessons we can learn from sports,
5. Yu, Jeleen, Athletic experience can boost your success in finance and other fields,


One response to “Glory Days”

  1. Karen Dahl says:

    Well said Greg.